October 2018


by Don Friedman on October 31, 2018

The Atlantic ran a photo essay on libraries: here. Pretty pictures, of course, but interesting in terms of what it says about the way libraries function. There are two types of libraries in the essay: very large research institutions and small local reading and book-lending rooms.

The small libraries – Liyuan (photos 4 and 5), Qinhuangdao (photos 19 and 20), and North Hollywood (photo 35) – share an almost domestic scale. They have more books than most people will ever own, but still only a fraction of the big libraries; the shelves are near seating and meant to be places to relax and read. The very small libraries – on a donkey’s back in Serang (photos 11 and 12), in a phone booth on Lewisham Way (photo 22), in a kiosk in Wuhan (photo 25), in the back of a van in Lagos (photo 28), and in a bus in Kabul (photo 31) – are too small to do anything other than provide a small selection of books to be read outside of the library itself.

The big libraries share a number of traits. There are a lot of books on display – in most of these buildings there are more in closed stacks, as well – and there are large open areas with desks or tables. There is technically no reason that the reading rooms have to be high-ceilinged and architecturally distinctive, but speaking as someone who’s spent time in library rooms like that and in ones that were low, dull, and boring, the big rooms are better. Part of architecture is the psychological effect that buildings create, and I feel like more of a scholar in the Rose Reading Room at the NYPL (photo 23) than I do in a 1970s box with beige carpeting and plastic furniture. The big-room designs are remarkably consistent in feel.

There are a few that seem to be treating books as decoration rather than in a usable manner. How do you get to the high-up books in Starfield (photo 2)? At least Tianjin Binhai is more honest in that the inaccessible books aren’t even books but rather images of books. Neither of these works for me: the books are the purpose of the place, and having them unreachable or faked seems self-defeating.

Visualizing a Boom

October 30, 2018

The New York Department of Buildings has mapped the biggest current permits: new buildings, and Alteration Type 1s (alterations that include changes to occupancy) that include expansion: here. To put that in perspective, there are approximately a million buildings in the city, so the 7178 open major permits represent a little under one percent of […]

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On “The Archivists of Extinction”

October 29, 2018

Surely there’s a word for the critique of a critique? In any case, the following is my commentary on Kate Wagner’s “The Archivists of Extinction,” published in The Baffler. Her article is long and contains a lot of interesting ideas, so I’m only going to focus on the one that interests me the most, which […]

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What’s Left Of Pier 32

October 27, 2018

My first impulse is to say “not much,” but those rotting piles provide habitat to all sorts of creatures, so who am I to say get rid of them?

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A Peek Into The Past

October 26, 2018

  The Library of Congress has a created a new online collection called the National Screening Room. A lot of the material was there before, but it’s now been organized so you can go strolling through movies of the past; public domain items can be downloaded, others can be watched. The short clip above is […]

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Zoning and Preservation – The Long View

October 25, 2018

That’s a view of Hoboken and Jersey City, two small cities in New Jersey, from the promenade along the Hudson River in New York. Hoboken has made an effort, mostly via zoning, to preserve its historic downtown. Both the actual existing buildings and the scale of the downtown have been protected in various ways. Jersey […]

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Almost Isn’t Good Enough

October 24, 2018

That’s a picture of a handrail where the riverfront walkway meets a wood pseudo-pier. (“Pseudo” because I’ve never seen any kind of boat docked there but I have seen a fair number of sunbathers there.) The upper portions of the handrail are in good condition and have been repainted not so long ago; the embedded […]

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Gradual Development

October 23, 2018

The map exhibit at the NY Transit Museum, and this Gothamist post describing it, could hardly have been better designed to capture my interest. Different ways of looking at the past and present of the subway system, different forms of graphic presentation, NY history…all good stuff. It’s the first map – the BMT lines as […]

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Difficult Disassembly

October 22, 2018

Another photo taken from a train, this time of the Tappen Zee bridges. If you click on the picture to expand it, you can see the new, gleaming-white, cable-stayed Tappan Zee bridge behind what’s left of the old bridge. Because this crossing of the Hudson River was placed for political reasons at the widest spot […]

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History In Etymology

October 21, 2018

Firehouses are mixed-use buildings, with garage space, living quarters, and equipment-prep rooms that are effectively light industry space. Modern firehouses physically represent these multiple uses, and don’t really deserve the name “house” at all. The building above is the former Engine Company 27, completed in 1882 to a design by Napoleon LeBrun & Son, a […]

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